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SuSE Aims to Improve 6.0 With Public Beta

by Dwight Johnson for Linux Today

On December 3, SuSE issued a
press release
announcing a public beta testing program for SuSE’s 6.0
release
. Below, in an exclusive interview with Linux Today,
Bodo Bauer, Technical Supervisor
of SuSE U.S. Operations, tells Linux Today readers more about the
SuSE 6.0 beta program.

Linux Today: Thanks for being willing to answer some
questions about the SuSE Linux public beta program announced
December 3. Can you tell us anything further about the SuSE public
beta program? Had you already implemented a public beta program
with your German release?

Bodo Bauer: It’s actually a beta of both versions, but it’s
primary target is the international audience. It’s our very first
public beta release of SuSE Linux. We used to make (and still do)
closed beta releases, with a selected number of volunteers in
germany. They get early snapshot CDs of our internal development
tree, usually four to six weeks before we release the official
version. We have had very good results from this kind of beta
testing in Germany. But, as we are targetting a much more
international audience with our 6.0 release, we felt the need for a
wider spectrum of testers. Bugs that appear only when you select a
language other than German are likely not to be found if you have
only native German speakers testing the distribution. Shipping CDs
seemed not practical, as the turnaround times would be too long. It
is not unusual to send CDs every other day to the group of German
beta testers, so the CD would be useless before it reached the
tester. This, and the highly increased connectivity of our FTP
site, were the reasons to do a public beta test with 6.0.

We have learned from our past mistakes that stupid bugs, which
passed the beta test (because they were in the English part of
YaST, for example), delayed shipping the product, or even forced us
to ship replacement CDs, as was the case with the first release of
SuSE Linux 5.3.

We hope to increase the quality of our distribution by giving
everybody the chance to have a look at it before it is released. We
highly appreciate everybody who spends time helping us to find bugs
and fix them.

Linux Today: The German SuSE
web site
says the 6.0 German version will ship December 21. Can
that be accurate when SuSE is still getting bugs out of the beta on
December 5?

Bodo Bauer: This public beta is in addition to the internal beta
program which started some time before we made the 6.0 beta
available on our FTP server. The public 6.0 beta is quite stable
already and we don’t expect to have major bugs to fix. Most of the
bugs found at this point will be minor things, which can be fixed
quickly.

The Linux business requires acting within a very fast-changing
environment. Nobody can afford to have long periods of beta
testing. If you take three months for testing, the distribution
will be already outdated when it reaches the customer. SuSE is
known for it’s reliable and stable distribution and we do
everything to keep it that way. If it should be the case that
somebody finds a major flaw in the current beta, we will delay
shipment. However, nobody at SuSE expects this to happen.

Linux Today: The instructions in the SuSE public beta press
release say to download the installation boot floppy:

ftp://ftp.suse.com/pub/SuSE-Beta/6.0/disks/eide01

Then, we are asked to boot with this floppy and choose the
FTP installation. Is that an appropriate installation method for a
slow dial-up connection to the Internet? How many megabytes of data
must be downloaded to complete this FTP install? What is the
minimum bandwidth SuSE recommends to participate in the SuSE public
beta program?

Bodo Bauer: You are right. If you just have a modem, it will be
a pain to install the whole distribution over FTP. I assume you
need at least an ISDN connection. Better would be a fast cable
modem, or even a T1 connection. The best way to do it would be to
mirror the directory /pub/SuSE-Beta/6.0 and then use this mirror
for installation over a LAN connection. This way you would still
have to download about 1Gb, which quit a lot.

You can omit the directories: docu, dosutils, full-names, disks
and unsorted. Those are about 150MB and not really needed for the
installation.

Linux Today: You stated earlier that shipping CDs for beta
testing of the SuSE international English language version would
not be practical “as the turnaround times would be too long”. May I
safely presume that the reason for this is because the CDs would
have to be shipped from Germany? Wouldn’t it be quite practical to
produce the beta CDs in your Oakland, California office and from
there one-day FedEx them to any of hundreds of English language
beta testers? Or is there some other reason this would not be
practical?

Bodo Bauer: We thought about this too and will probably have a
scheme like this the next time. The delay, however, will still be
longer than in Germany, where CDs shipped at night, reach the
tester the next morning.

Linux Today: When Volkswagen first started shipping cars to
the U.S., all the production was done in Germany. Today, Volkswagen
has a major assembly plant in the U.S. There are many reasons why
the English language version must differ from the German version.
Does SuSE foresee a day when it will find it advantageous to set up
a production facility for the English version of SuSE Linux in the
U.S.?

Bodo Bauer: The production, which in the case of VW means the
assembly, and in our case would be the replication of the CDs, is
not the problem. We are going to do this in the U.S., if not with
the 6.0, then with the 6.1 release. The development is the point.
We develop the distribution in Germany, and I guess VW designs cars
and engines still in Germany too. At least for the moment, there no
reason to change this.

Linux Today: What qualifications would make the best beta
testers for SuSE’s public beta program?

Bodo Bauer: A tester should be familiar with our distribution
and have basic Linux knowledge. He or she should know how things
are connected. If an error occurs, it’s good to be able to circle
it in and find the spot causing it. In order to know how to do
this, you have to know the ‘SuSE Way’ of doing things.

If you have, let’s say, 5.3 running, and you want to try
something new, you’re welcome to try the 6.0 Beta. If you have
never installed SuSE before, I would not recommend trying a beta
release. There is no guaranty that anything will work; there is no
printed manual; and there is no hotline to call.

Linux Today: Thank you for taking the time to answer these
questions about SuSE’s public beta program.